Scripts and Politics in the USSR

Vladimir Mikhajlovich Alpatov


No country in the world has changed its language policy – including the choice of alphabet – as frequently as the Soviet Union did. There were three main periods of alphabet change: the 1920s; the second part of the 1930s; and the last years of the USSR. The revolution set new goals – it expressed the need to transfer official communication from Russian into the languages of ethnic minorities, to create middle and higher education in them and so on. However, many languages were unwritten; the existing scripts of some other languages (traditional Arabic or Mongolian) were considered unacceptable. It was necessary to create new alphabets. After some hesitation, the Latin script was chosen as predominant in the world. More than 80 alphabets were constructed in the 1920s and '30s. However from 1935 to 1938 it was decided that all Soviet languages using the Latin alphabet would adopt Cyrillic. This Cyrillisation was completed in 1941, before the beginning of the war. The official slogans remained the same, but the spread of Russian and the Cyrillic script became a main task of Soviet language policy. This situation did not change until the 1980s when national movements in the USSR spoke out against Russian and the use of the Cyrillic script. After the disintegration of the USSR in 1991 and the formation of new states, the problem of alphabet choice became urgent. Latinisation was accomplished in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Moldavia; it is planned in Kazakhstan and Kyrghyzstan. Some proposals to Latinise Russian have no practical significance.


Soviet Union; Language Policy; Alphabet; Latin Alphabet; Cyrillic Alphabet; Arabic Alphabet; Latinization; Change of Policy; New States

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